Rapeutic opportunities to reenter the world, to be with others, and to build you own “pain relief village.”
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It is possible to regain your mobility, independence, social and emotional connections, and selfesteem . . . to feel love in abundance . . . to heal your “pain brain” and restore it to health . . . and to prevent chronic pain from taking over your life. All of these can be achieved while simultaneously cutting back on your medications and disentangling yourself from a costly, confusing, and potentially dangerous healthcare system.
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Let’s begin the journey to relief!
Find Calm in the Storm
The self is not something ready-made, but something in continuous formation through choice of action.
For nearly a year now, Gloria has been on edge around her husband, Jack. No matter how hard she tries and no matter what she does, she can’t seem to help him. She feels guilty, as if she is part of the problem or, at the very least, a failure for not being a better spouse.
Meanwhile, Jack is in constant pain. He used to work as a delivery truck driver, until a tire blew out on his big rig while going 60 miles an hour on the freeway. The truck spun out and flipped over. And although Jack walked away from the wreck, he has struggled with incessant headaches and neck pain ever since.
The pain has changed his personality. Jack used to be very social and loved taking the kids to the park to play. Not anymore. He’s become very withdrawn, spending most of his time alone, hidden in the bedroom He sleeps very little at night. “Too much pain,” he says, when asked about it. Gloria tries her best to console him and massage him where he hurts, but he just gets angry and snaps at her. He seems to be constantly on the verge of blowing up. And his drinking has escalated.
“I’m worried about how much Jack has been drinking, along with all the pills he takes,” Gloria says. “I’m always tense around him. I don’t know what to do.”
When Jack is questioned by his doctor, he says, “Sometimes, most of the time, I feel like I just can’t calm myself down.”
Many pain patients feel so overwhelmed by the pain that they can’t function well physically—and in some cases, emotionally and cognitively. A major contributing factor to this “meltdown” is a hyper-aroused nervous system, which manifests as feelings of anxiety and stress, sometimes leading to panic attacks. If it were possible to look at the nervous system of almost anyone suffering from chronic pain, you would see that it’s all revved up and unable to rest. There’s a torrent of chatter flying between the amygdala, the hippocampus, the insular cortex, and other parts of the brain. Mental and emotional alarm bells are ringing louder and more often than they should, and the parts of the brain that normally say “shhh” and calm things down aren’t doing the job very well. With all this going on in the nervous system, how could anyone help feeling tense, anxious, and distracted?
In a healthy brain, messages flow from area to area at a measured rate. There’s a system of checks and balances, with some brain structures amplifying sensations or emotions, and others quieting them down. The system is flexible, allowing for sudden increases in physical and/or emotional demands and easing back to a calm, normal state when the crisis has passed. In other words, the brain knows how and when to rev itself up and calm itself down.
But when you’re caught up in chronic pain, the brain is thrown into panic mode. Overwhelmed, it struggles to calm itself but often it cannot. And we doctors can’t do much about your pain problem until we get your system to calm down to some degree. So let’s begin with a look at stress, how it affects the body, and how to reduce its deleterious effects.